In The Book, there is a mere few sentences about starting on a level surface. Of course, it is common sense. The stack and burn tunnel need to be straight and smooth, so, level.
However simple the idea, the task was in no way easy. Our floor started out level, tamped drain rock. Then we made cob and built walls in there. Over time, globs of cob fell and built up. We walked over them and stomped out cob on top of them, forming little hills and valleys that had to be scraped level without disturbing the drain rock below. Not easy.
So, I am dedicating this entire post to the topic The Importance of Being Level.
We dumpster dive for chunks of granite and marble. Laid out with mortar, this one-inch marble will collect heat under the stove and lend it to the floor.
Kind of a shame this beautiful stuff will be below floor level. (The floor will be a cob floor with a beeswax finish.)
We mixed small batches of mortar in one of Nathan’s water drum troughs, usually used for soaking clay. Mortar is made of strained construction sand and clay. The sand needs to be sharp and fine, aka masonry sand.
Nathan used an old kitchen strainer he scored at a thrift store.
(soaked overnight, at least. Seen here in a tub under a plywood lid to keep mosquitoes out.)
For a small batch, We use two buckets of sand. For wall-strength we use crushed sand, so it holds together. For the plaster coat, We will use beach sand for a nice polished look.
Plop the bucket of clay over the mound of sand, in a little crater you made with your foot. Kick the sand over the clay to “Corndog” it. (Watch the groin muscles! This can really hurt you the next day.) Then start stomping!
The mix begins.
And cookie dough consistency is achieved!
You know you’re there when it rolls up like a nice, smooth log (insert 4th-grade humor here).
Sprinkle straw on the log and stomp it flat. Sprinkle more straw and roll and stomp until incorporated throughout. (It’s incorporated! Now It’s a Person, according to some…)
Take a little break. Squish it onto the wall and stab it all over with a stick (Dibble) to “sew” layers together with the straw and leave a rough surface for future layers to key into.
Finally ready to start some serious cob. Site cleared; foundation dug; drainage and gravel trench installed; foundation rocks (most of them) hauled to building site and stacked; post and beams up! Next steps: rafters, tarp, mortar foundation and restart, then we are set for four-season cobbing! Lastly, we will finish the living roof. Hello, Summer!